Osega's closing leaves gap in after-school care

Paul Clark

The closing of Osega Gymnastics in Swannanoa has many Valley parents thinking about what they’ll do with their children after school, once school starts next month.

If they haven’t lined up private care, possibly through website like, parents in the Valley have three options, and all of them involve the YMCA after-school programs at Black Mountain Primary and Middle Schools and Williams Elementary School in Swannanoa. Art in the Afternoon, a popular arts-enrichment at the Carver Center in Black Mountain, is full, with a waiting list, its owner said.

Art in the Afternoon is a popular choice for many parents seeking after-school care.

The program at Williams Elementary School is staffed for about 45 kids, and Black Mountain Primary is staffed for 30, said Melissa Wiedeman, vice president for youth development at YMCA of Western North Carolina. Both programs are flexible and can add more staff if the number of students increases, she said. The program at Owen Middle School serves about 100 kids and is free, paid for with federal money. (Learn more about each program at the schools.)

The YMCA ( has different rates for the other two schools, depending on how often parents need the service. For parents who register early and opt for auto-draft, the five-day plan is $83 a week per child. The YMCA offers financial assistance and scholarships. No one is turned away because of ability to pay, Wiedeman said.

The YMCA after-school program served about 1,200 Buncombe County kids last school year. Other school districts had about a 100-student waiting list, but there’s not one in the Owen Schools District, Wiedeman said.

Art in the Afternoon is full and has a waiting list, director Stephanie Sulzman said. She’d like to expand the program but doesn’t have the room, she said. Most parents want it more for the after-school care than the art instruction, she said. “It’s more out of necessity than desire,” Sulzman said.

She maxes out at 30 children but could easily add another dozen if she had the space, she said. She started the program 10 years ago out of necessity, having gotten laid off from her part-time art teaching job with the Buncombe County school system. Eight months pregnant, she had been thinking about creating an after-school art program “down the road,” she said. Laid off in June 2008, she started Art in the Afternoon in August.

“I wanted to create a program that worked for families on different schedules,” she said. “I felt there was a need from something else and tried to fill that void.”

“It’s a need,” Sulzman said. “School lets out at 2:30 p.m. Who gets out of work at 2:30?”

Osega had been in its building in Swannanoa for five years. Co-owner Miles Avery said the business is moving to 24 Sterling Place near the Asheville Regional Airport but is looking for a second location in the Swannanoa Valley. An after-school program would continue to be among its offerings, as would its free special-needs program, Avery said.

"We'd love to stay here," he said. He said he's looking at a space in Asheville Mall, which would keep the gym on the Black Mountain side of Buncombe County.

Jeff Penley, who has sent out the last several Osega Gymnastics press releases, understands the pain that many families are feeling about losing Osega’s after-school care. “We’re one of those parents,” he said. His kids have gone there for three years.

“My daughter, when she found out (it was leaving the valley), she’s been crying continuously off and on because she won’t be able to do her twice-a-week gymnastics classes," he said. "A lot of people are up in the air.”